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tv   ABC7 News Getting Answers  ABC  December 3, 2021 3:00pm-3:30pm PST

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>> building a better bay area, moving forward, finding solutions. this is abc 7 news. >> i'm kristen sze, you are watching getting answers on abc seven, hulu live, and wherever you stream. we ask experts your questions every day at three to get answers in real time. we have a filmmaker who's documentary opens in the bay area with events all focusing on student mental health in a high-pressure environment. the latest on the omicron variant of covid-19. the highly mutated strain has now been found in six u.s. states. the first in california, followed by minnesota, colorado, new york, hawaii, and nebraska. the first case confirmed late tuesday night in san francisco. a traveler who flew back to sfo
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from south africa on november 22 notice mild symptoms on november 25, got tested on november 28, got the positive result november 29. after that, things were set in motion resulting in the confirmation that it was omicron less than 48 hours later. the scientist whose lab made that discovery is dr. charles schumer of u.s. -- ucsf. thank you for your time. >> thank you. you >> got the sample on november 30. what was it, and what form did it come in? >> i received a phone call and email at about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon directly from the san francisco department of public health. they had found a potential case of omicron from a returning traveler from south africa. we immediately made an effort to reach out to our partner that
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does the testing which would result in the positive test result. it was received at about 6:00 p.m. we received an extracted rna sample from the nasal swab from the individual who was infected. from there, we immediately did a quick molecular test called spiking dropout. we got a hint it two hours. to make the identification, we needed to sequence the genome of the virus. from the time we received it, we were able to obtain the genomic sequence in about five hours. >> for the layman, tell us what happens in the quick test giving you the first hint it could be omicron, it is likely omicron, and tell us about the longer test that proves it. >> it is a pcr tests.
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the same test we use to diagnose covid-19 to identify that a given person has been infected. there is one specific aspect of omicron in that it has a specific mutation. a change in the genome. such that when you run this quick test, you could detect the presence of this particular change. the spike protein. it is a very important protein that is part of the virus. the idea behind the rapid quick test is you can identify the possibility it might be omicron. the only circulating virus that actually has this deletion currently is omicron. it is also found in alpha, but really there aren't any alpha strains circulating widely anymore. >> mainly delta. >> mainly delta.
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we can be able to distinguish potentially omicron from delta with the quick test. to make the definitive identification, we need to sequence the entire virus. that takes a little longer, about two hours to do the quick test. we were able to sequence the virus in five hours. to give you an idea of the timeframe, typically for sequencing a virus, in general, it takes laboratories about several days, in some cases up to a week, to be able to sequence. we were able to do this because we used a pocket sequencer, a way to do very rapid sequencing of a single sample. so we were able to get an answer in about five hours after receiving the sample. >> i see tubes, dishes. what exactly happens in the sequencing process? >> the sequencing is very similar to what you would do with a pcr tests, getting a test.
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we essentially prepare sequencing library. all it involves is adding reagents to these tubes and incubating them at certain temperatures. you basically conduct a series of chemical reactions. ultimately, you generate this library that is basically a couple of droplets of liquid in a tube. once you have the tube, you can take a little bit of that and put it onto a sequencing instrument or machine and it would produce sequences. we ended up generating from this sample 3 million sequences. it took about eight hours to generate 3 million sequences. i was able to look at the first 200,000 sequences. within five hours, i identified this as omicron. >> this is so mind-boggling. i wish i paid more attention in biology class. i think i get what you are saying. how did you do that overnight? did you stay up, did you and your lab -- i imagine there is a degree of excitement, implying
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that is a good thing, but this could be the first case in the u.s., did that kind of keep you going through the night? >> yeah, i think there was a sense of urgency. omicron had already been reported in multiple countries at the time. it was yet to be reported in the u.s.. given the travel history individual who provided the sample, we did have a suspicion it might be omicron. in addition, the quick pcr tests we did that showed this by gene dropout suggested there was a high likelihood. we essentially had to work our way during the entire night to definitively prove this. it took us about five hours to make an identification. ultimately, you want to recover 100% of the genome. after five hours, we had about half of the genome. you can say 50%.
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the genome itself is about 33,000 or more, 35,000 bases long. it is a long viral genome. about 50% in five hours. it took us until 4:00 a.m. to get the whole thing. >> you have to understand all of it, even knowing that it was omicron. what happens to the sample? do other labs want a piece of it, or to get what you were able to find out? >> one of the benefits off having a positive sample for omicron is now that we can try to do the laboratory studies to address really important questions about omicron. a key question is is omicron more transmissible than delta? >> what we have seen with the trends from the pandemic is what happens is as you have a new emerging variant, whether alpha, delta, or omicron, if the new variant is more infectious, it will over time become the
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predominant variant. we have delta circulating. the concern is omicron might emerge to become the predominant variant. it can occur rapidly. in south africa, it is already the predominant variant. it took only a few weeks for it to become the predominant variant and surpass delta. roughly more than 80% of the infections in south africa. so we want to address the question if it is more infectious. at the same time, the second question is important, does it affect the protection that you get from vaccination, from being vaccinated, or being infected before? that is another aspect of omicron that is worrisome, in that it has mutations that may make vaccines less protective. our thoughts are we might be able to address these now that we have the sample.
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we are actively taking the patient samples and culturing it, growing it. the reason we want to grow it is we can do these studies. i'm currently engaged in that in collaboration with the department of public health. in addition, we hope in a few days, probably by early next week, we may have a culture growing to share it widely with laboratories to answer these questions. >> what would they do to get the answers? >> we can study the virus in laboratory and understand the properties. we understand how infectious the virus is relative to delta and other variants. we can also do studies looking at -- from blood, individuals collected from individuals vaccinated, or patients who had covid-19. i have a study on going where i enroll individuals when they get vaccinated and after they get their booster.
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the idea is booster vaccina vacv or fully vaccinated individuals protected? will it help against omicron? because we have the virus, we will answer those questions. i'm hopeful we might be able to answer them quickly, in one or two weeks. >> i was about to ask about that. thank you for reading my mind. don't go away, we will come back with more after a short break. hey, i just got a text from my sister. you remember rick, her neighbor? sure, he's the 76-year-old guy who still runs marathons, right? sadly, not anymore. -what, you mean-- -mhm. -just like that. -wow. so sudden. um, we're not about to have the "we need life insurance" conversation again, are we? no, we're having the "we're getting coverage so we don't have to worry about it" conversation. so you're calling about the $9.95 a month plan -from colonial penn? -i am.
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and you'll also get this free beneficiary planner, so call now. (soft music) ♪ ♪ hello, colonial penn? charles chu. his lab discovered the first confirmed omicron variant case in the u.s.. we want to emphasize with help from other agencies, the state and san francisco department of public health.
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if you don't mind addressing viewer questions, elana wants to know for those who successfully got the vaccine and are waiting to get the booster, should the booster be put on hold as we await the omicron specific vaccine if it comes out? what do you think? >> the recommendations from the local and state public health agencies is all americans eligible to get the booster should receive it. i believe the booster should not be -- put on hold. the booster does have -- does increase antibody level or degree of immune protection to other variants. omicron does share the same mutations found in other variants, such as alpha and delta. although we don't currently know exactly what impact omicron will have on your immune protection, it is very likely getting the booster will boost it, so less
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likely that omicron would make you more protected from getting infected. it is likely to be the case. we have yet to show it. but it is my hope we and others will be able to answer the question on exactly what impact omicron will have on vaccinations. i think in the meantime, it is absolutely critical that you get vaccinated if you are not, and get the booster if you are eligible. >> abc news is currently reporting at least six states. i'm seeing other news outlets, wall street journal saying nine states have omicron. i know it doesn't come as a surprise. but at least two of the reported community spread, what does it mean? >> community spread was not reported in the california case. that was because the california case was associated with returning travel from south
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africa. what community spread means is there is spread between individuals within a community. that is typically not travel related. that means there have been some cases identified. one example would be -- i believe the case in minnesota, where the affected case had traveled to a convention or meeting in new york. that means community spread -- community spread's mean individuals were affected at home or in their communities, and it is not travel associated. i should also mention what it does suggest is now the virus, which we have suspected all along, is circulating in our communities. we are not just imported from other countries such as south africa. >> we had the first case in san francisco, and we had another confirmed in los angeles yesterday.
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have you tested more samples for omicron since? >> we have been testing more samples for omicron, and others have been testing, as well. there are some potential omicron cases revealed by the rapid pcr tests. but we still have to do the sequencing to confirm they were omicron. so there are potential additional cases we will report as soon as we confirm the results. >> as we await you, scientists finding more of omicron, and whether it is more capable of diluting the vaccine or causing serious illness, i think a lot of viewers are hanging on to seeing initial reports of milder cases out of south africa and hoping that will be the case. even if it turns out to be the case, can you talk about what allowing the virus to continue
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without vaccinations, what it means for future mutations and future variants and severity of those? >> i think it is a real challenge for us, because as long as the virus circulates, we know it is a virus that has mutated and will continue to evolve over time. as long as there is ongoing circulation. this is why it is critical we get as many people vaccinated as possible. vaccination is really our best tool for minimizing or decreasing the amount of transmission, as well as decreasing the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to covid-19. i think one message we understand from omicron is we don't really exist in a bubble. not just in our local community, state, even nationally, we have to get the pandemic under control globally to prevent what appears to be a never ending
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cycle of emerging variants. >> dr. charles chu, thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing your discovery. really appreciate it. coming up next, we talk with a filmmaker behind a documentary out now about the pressures at
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san francisco's high achieving lowell high school has been in the news over the school district's revision of its emissions process. while stories often treat the students like faceless numbers, a new documentary that prepares today in big cities, including san francisco, sheds light on the kids as individuals with their own dreams and challenges. >> they are objectively under more pressure. >> you want to go to the college, i want to go to the college. >> joining us is hudson lau lauu asians are strong and a lowell alumnus.
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the producer and director, and president of the high school parent teacher association, nice to have you all. >> thank you for having us. >> i'm happy we got all three of you on screen. try harder is a new york times critics pick. won awards at multiple film festivals, try harder succeeds with flying colors, san francisco examiner, engaging, enlightening, and sometimes alarming. congratulations to you. >> thank you so much. excited to be here. >> you follow five students and their families as they went through the stressful process. did you go in with any goals wanting to show the kids in a certain light, or did you turn on the camera and let the story unfold? >> of course, i made asian american documentaries for my whole career. it was really interested in showing the humanity in the story and how these kids are
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just amazing kids with incredible stories to tell. if anything, that was really my objective. >> i watched the film when it first premiered. the kids are super engaging. and you just root for each and every one of them. the stories in the news, the community can seem like a divided place. you spent a year on the campus filming. to the issues we see in headlines dominate the kids'actual lives, are they more united or divided? >> we live there, we relived high school for a couple of years. it was very different from what the headlines will say. we saw a lot of school spirit. even though they were stressed out to go to basketball games at times. i think the kids are all working under this one common goal, which is trying to get into
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college, which is so hard. it kind of is a unifier in a lot of ways. i don't know. we saw a different side of lowell high school than what is normally portrayed in the papers. >> but no doubt, whether you are at lowell, which is high achieving, or many other public high schools or private high schools in the bay area, a lot of stress for students. as a parent of a lowell senior going through the process, what do you think this film gets right? something you found relatable watching your own child? >> i think what it gets right is there are a lot of external pressures. that becomes internal pressures for the students. we as a society have education, which is important, but a four-year university is not for everyone. a specific type of university is not for everyone. i think we can have more conversations around different options after high school
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without the pressure and the stress. >> that coming from parents is helpful. also, because you want to focus on mental health and help kids deal with stress, the pts a is having a showing with events to help kids. >> the showing will be on sunday at 1:45 p.m. at the regal theater. we will also have an acupuncture clinic with help from the american college of traditional chinese medicine. >> kids can see the film, parents, families, and get the mental health activities. you are a lowell alumni. part of the coalition of aapi groups promoting the opening weekend. why are you putting in this effort to ensure try harder is seen by many? >> our mission is really to empower and protect the asian community. that is really top of mind.
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one of the most important things for us to do is change the narrative and stereotype among asian americans. especially with the minority myth. and i think debbie's film does a massive impact on helping people understand our story and understanding, we hope it helps us grow and evolve as a community and people to understand us better. they see where we are coming from and we break those stereotypes and embrace them all. >> a timely message. important for our times. when i saw the movie, it did strike me like tiger moms come in all colors. you really can't stereotype. it is college application season. what i got from the film is even though many kids did not get into their dream schools, what they thought was number one, they ended up succeeding where they went. that is an important message, right? >> one of our students who went through the whole thing,
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everyone loves him in this story . when he saw the film, he said " god i wish i could have given that high school kid of mine, self, a big hug and told him it would be all right." you have to to to to to to really hard, it is like one of their first big dreams they are trying to achieve. they are resilient. even if by today's standards, most kids applying to college, they will get rejected. it is actually part of the process. but i think that they a lot of hope, these kids. especially the kids we follow. it is like the lowell story is both inspiring and powerful, but pretty universal. >> where can people see it?
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you have a one-week run in the san francisco bay area, where can folks go and find more information? >> it officially opens tonight in san francisco. at the regal theater in stone's town mall. it is also in the regal theater in berkeley. opening weekend is when we are trying to get everyone to come out and show everybody that we are sort of the crazy rich asians of documentaries this year. >> congratulations to you. thank you for joining us. don'
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us on this interactive show getting answers. we talked with the u cfs doctor
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who lab was first to confirm the omicron variant in the u.s.. we will be back for abc 7 news at 4:00, world n breaking news as we come on the air -- major developments in the deadly high school shooting in michigan. authorities launching a search for the parent of 15-year-old ethan crumbley after they were charged the involuntary manslaughter, but their attorney claiming they are not on the run and plan to turn themselves in. the prosecutor accusing them of allowing him to access the gun he used to kill four students and ignoring obvious warning signs,. describing disturbing photos and graphic drawings. the teen allegedly writing "the thoughts won't stop, help me." the gun believed to be in his backpack during a meeting with his parents and school officials before being sent back to class. also on this friday night, new cases of the omicron variant now found in at least ten states from hawaii to new york.

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